First Cup: Tuesday

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The Thunder is moving on to the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season after closing out the Los Angeles Lakers 106-90 in Game 5 on Monday night. And in the clincher, it was Westbrook and fellow All-Star teammate Kevin Durant who carried the Thunder. Westbrook scored a team-high 28 points, while Durant chipped in 25. None, however, were bigger than the three by Westbrook that caused that passionate celebration. The play started with Westbrook intercepting a Ramon Sessions pass to Kobe Bryant at the top of the key. As Westbrook raced the other way, Sessions intentionally fouled Westbrook, wrapping him up in an attempt to prevent a shot attempt. But Westbrook powered through the contact and banked in 15-foot runner, sparking pandemonium inside The Peake. “That was an amazing play,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Obviously, there was a lot of luck to that. But he put himself in that position to get a little lucky there.” Luck or not, it was a message-sending shot. It confirmed, once and for all, that the Lakers indeed can not guard the Thunder. It showed, once again, that this team, in this round, would not be stopped.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: What happened here on a strange and sad Monday night felt like the end of an era. Kobe Bryant's window to win a sixth championship in Los Angeles may have officially shut, and who knows whether he will want to stick around to spend his final years pressing his nose against the glass? In the two seasons since they won the fifth championship of the Kobe era, the Lakers have lost their famed head coach, their celebrated locker room leader, and the powerful influence of their aging owner. Now they have been dragged to the curb of two consecutive postseasons like bags of old clothes, this time in a 106-90 loss to Oklahoma City that gave the Thunder a 4-1 series victory in the second round. What now? The Lakers flew home late Monday night with the raucous boos from the Chesapeake Energy Arena fans ringing in their ears while their future looked silent and brooding. Combine this loss with the four-game sweep by Dallas in last year's second round, and this is a team that has gone 9-13 in the last two postseasons. Combine Monday's four-rebound game from Andrew Bynum with his inconsistent playoffs and turbulent regular season, and this is a team whose brightest young star is a dim bulb. When Coach Mike Brown was asked late Monday where the Lakers go from here, he shook his head.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Monday night in Game 5 against the Sixers, when the Celtics offense needed a boost after Philadelphia dominated the first half and threatened to take control of this stunningly competitive series, Brandon Bass produced one of the best quarters in Celtics playoff history, proving relentless and unstoppable during a critical stretch. His 18 points in the third quarter (and 27 overall) helped the Celtics fight off a valiant 76ers team, his outburst the primary reason why Boston cruised to a 101-85 victory at TD Garden. Bass ruled the paint in the third quarter, and the Celtics depended greatly on his production as they shook off a lethargic first half, finally gaining a semblance of momentum in the series after the Game 4 debacle. “To be honest with you, I wasn’t really frustrated,’’ Bass said about missing all but three seconds of the fourth quarter of Game 4. “I trust Doc and his coaching ability. For me, I just stay ready, and a night like tonight I was able to help.’’ The Celtics needed an athletic boost that was apparent from the tip. Kevin Garnett was forcing jumpers, trying in vain to get into a rhythm. Paul Pierce was again timid against the defense of Andre Iguodala. Ray Allen is obviously slowed by his sore right ankle and is shooting just 27 percent from the 3-point line in the series.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: It wasn't youth that played the biggest role in the 76ers' not putting the hammer down on the Boston Celtics and coming back to Philly with a 3-2 series lead. And it wasn't the wise, old vets in the green and white just tapping into their playoff experience, either. What did the Sixers in, what allowed Boston to take a 101-85 victory and a 3-2 lead out of TD Garden on Monday night, was simply bad and, at times, stupid basketball by the visitors. The youth excuse can be thrown out there, but when passes are thrown with minimum velocity and with all the precision of a North Korean test missile and a player such as Brandon Bass torches you for 18 points in the most important quarter of the season, while you're turning the ball over six times, that's just bad, bad basketball. And after 11 playoff games this year, on top of the five last year, youth really can't be a crutch anymore.

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Shane Battier, the Heat’s new starting power forward, is giving up 30 to 35 pounds to the man he’s guarding, David West. The Heat’s starting center, Ronny Turiaf, is four inches shorter than Indiana’s 7-2 Roy Hibbert, and the Heat’s backup center, 6-9 Joel Anthony, is five inches shorter. Then there’s Udonis Haslem, who was draining clutch jumpers Sunday while playing with nine stitches and an irritating bandage hanging above a bloody cut over his right eye. Such is the demanding and difficult predicament that most of the Heat’s power forwards and centers have faced in this playoff series in the absence of Chris Bosh. And it’s a plight that will continue indefinitely, with Bosh continuing to do rehab on his abdominal strain. ... Tuesday’s critical Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena will hinge, in good measure, on whether LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can approach their extraordinary efforts of Game 4. But the outcome also will rest, in part, on the work of the Heat’s patchwork crew of power rotation players — a group that left an imprint on Sunday’s critical win.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Pacers find themselves in a best-of-three series against championship-minded Miami, with two of the potential three remaining games set for South Florida. It doesn't matter that nobody outside the Pacers organization thought they had a chance against the Heat. The Pacers must put everything on the table so that there's no second-guessing any decisions that are made. Vogel found himself thinking twice about leaving Hibbert and West on the bench with four fouls each in the fourth quarter of Game 4. If the Pacers eventually come up short, it needs to be with their best low-post players on the court, even if it means they eventually foul out. As Vogel found out Sunday, they will do more good on the court than on the bench.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: It was already after 1 a.m. San Antonio time Monday when Tim Duncan at last made his way out of the locker room at the Staples Center and began the long, slow walk down the tunnel toward the Spurs’ bus. It was then, at the end of a short series but a long day, that Duncan finally permitted himself a smile. “It feels a lot like some of the championship teams,” Duncan said after the Spurs administered their second consecutive sweep of this postseason, this one to the Los Angeles Clippers. “In saying that, we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve won two rounds. That’s it.” The Spurs are headed back to the Western Conference finals now, a place that used to be a routine stopover for Duncan en route to his summer home in the NBA Finals. His return has been a long time coming. This will be Duncan’s first trip to the pro version of the Final Four since 2008, and for a while it looked like that would be the last of his Hall of Fame-bound career. ... Players get older. Dynasties fade. New contenders emerge. It is the circle of life. And yet there Duncan was early Monday morning, walking out of the Staples Center and toward another conference final four years after his last, wrapped in an old familiar feeling. “We haven’t done anything yet,” Duncan repeated, as if to remind himself. Between now and the end of June, Duncan hopes to make at least eight more triumphant walks like it, step by step toward the NBA mountaintop.

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: It's now up to you, Dwight Howard. Not anybody else. You got what you wanted. The Magic fired Coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday. They parted ways with general manager Otis Smith. You are now the de facto coach and general manager of the team. You are calling the shots now. The flagging franchise is in your hands. You can either heal it and bring it back to life by signing a contract extension or you can squash it by abandoning it to go play for Jay-Z's team in New York. What's it going to be, Dwight? ... Let's not forget, it was just a couple of months ago when Dwight decided to put off free agency for a year and professed his love and loyalty for Orlando. Remember what he said at that news conference? He said, "I'm very loyal and I've put loyalty above anything else. … I've got everything I've wanted right here in Orlando. All of that other stuff will come. But the first thing we have to do is win a championship. Right now we have a great opportunity to do that.'' Now we find out if Dwight is ready to live up to those words and show as much loyalty to the Magic as they've shown to him. They drafted him No. 1 out of high school when many of the experts said they should have drafted Emeka Okafor. They helped him develop into the most dominant center in the league. They have the second-highest payroll in the NBA and have spent gobs of money — sometimes foolishly — to try to surround him with the talent to win a championship. And now they have parted ways with the best coach in franchise history to try to keep him happy. It's now up to you, Dwight. Not anybody else. So when are you coming home from Los Angeles to sign that extension?